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The politics of fulfilling the need to whitewash history


Practical Politics

Nations and countries solidify their respected positions in the world by educating their youth on the history of those nations’ contributions to the world. A country with no noticeable history is a country whose youth inhabitants will soon abandon them for competitors.

Every nation searches its recorded archives, books, photographs, and writings to compile a historical picture of itself as playing a valuable part in the advancement of man’s knowledge, technology, literature, arts, etc. Nations need notice of historical respect as part of the modern reputation those nations use in international relations.

This is normal. In some countries, however, another noticeable trend still obtains, too. Parts of the population deemed less than significant in some countries tend to get short shrift in the historical memories and tales of those countries. The gypsies in several European countries, the Uighurs in China, the Native Americans and African Americans in the U.S., and others, are examples of that effort.

History is what happened, not just what was paid attention to and got recorded at the time. That’s why human beings relentlessly revisit the past and regularly add more information to whatever current historical accounts contain. Remember the movie, “Hidden Figures,” about a small group of highly talented Black women who were extremely important to America’s successful space race achievements? The information on their contributions was available long before a few authors and filmmakers “discovered” it. All it took was someone to pay attention and recognize the jewel that information represented.

With the current popularity of the movie, “Oppenheimer,” again we have to revisit the statements above. Viewing the film, it is very easy to get the impression that only white men were the protagonists and historically important characters. There was an overwhelming absence of females, and a near total absence of Black American interaction in the story. Hmmm. Another money-making but inaccurate depiction of an important part of American history, whatever else one thought of the war tragedy aspects.

Fact is, according to documents and records in the National Park Service,  “Thousands of African American women and men contributed to the Manhattan Project, but many of their stories remain untold. They were an important part of the workforce. Although African Americans were generally construction workers, laborers, janitors or domestic workers, a limited number of African American men and women also worked as scientists and technicians at smaller Manhattan Project sites in New York and Chicago.”

In addition, though there was one Black male character identifiable in the movie, J. Ernest Wilkins, who was played by character actor Ronald Auguste, his screen time was so short that he was missed by most theater-goers. More importantly, Mr. Wilkins in real life was not only a child prodigy who had earned a Ph.D before he was 21 years old and worked as a plutonium scientist along with several other Black men in the field, he was also a significant signatory, along with 70 other scientists, to the very important Szilard Petition of 1945, that urged President Truman not to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

The records of the National Park Service also mention Black scientists Jasper Jeffries, Carolyn Parker, Samuel Proctor Massie, M. Daniel Taylor and William Jacob Knox as contributors to the Manhattan Project.

This is not a screed on “where were all the females” in this important American action, but the question needs to be raised, since according to easily found records there were at least 640 women working at Los Alamos, or 11 percent of the facility’s workforce, not even counting the ones at other Manhattan Project sites elsewhere in the country. Nearly half that total were scientists, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, and computational analysts.

The movie was great----very long, but excellent. Why couldn’t a little more information about real people be included?  I’m just sayin…….

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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